Football - Pardew: Prove your class

Alan Pardew has challenged Newcastle to prove their fifth-place Barclays Premier League finish two season ago was no fluke.

The Magpies will head into the Christmas programme occupying a top-six berth this time around after a more than solid start to the season which has dispelled the misery of the last campaign.

A little more than 12 months ago, owner Mike Ashley was forced to bring forward a significant proportion of his winter spending plans with the club entrenched in a survival fight with injuries and the rigours of European football taking a heavy toll.

But while Pardew's critics claimed that, rather than the upper echelons of the division, was the level at which the 52-year-old's side deserved to be competing, he is confident its current standing is a fairer reflection of its strength.

The manager said: "Obviously, I believe that and I think we are proving that.

"A lot was written and said about us last year and I thought a lot of it was unfair and some of that needs to be readdressed because it wasn't right.

"The Europa League had a massive impact, like it's having on Swansea. If Swansea didn't have that Europa League, they would be much further up the league than they are now."

The Potters will arrive at St James' Park to face a team which has won six of its last eight league games and collected 19 points in the process.

But perhaps more importantly, the players who had to scrap to remain in the top flight last season, have regained the belief which had fuelled their surge to the heights a year earlier.

Pardew said: "I don't think there's any doubt about that, and we have got real quality to come in off the side.

"We have got ourselves into a fantastic position and now we have got to try to push on.

"It's been terrific, particularly the last two months. It's about now sustaining that.

"But it's not a complete surprise to me. A lot of this team was the team that finished fifth two years ago and they have got experience.

"We have got good experience in the group and we have got a lot of energy, and it's that energy that has really taken us up a notch."

Newcastle's vastly-improved form can be attributed in part to the assimilation of the likes of recent signings Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy into the team.

However, it has perhaps been the form of compatriot Yohan Cabaye which has provided the spark for the last couple of months.

The France international missed the opening weeks of the season as Arsenal tried and failed to sign him, and while that drove a wedge between he and the fans, he has bridged the gap in the best possible way with his performances on the pitch.

Pardew, who could face another battle to hang on to the 27-year-old next month with the Gunners, Liverpool and Paris St Germain having already been linked with him, said: "He is a fantastic footballer.

"He is improving and he is improving around us because he is in an environment where he has got pole position.

"He has got pole position in my team, and that's nice for a player like him. You don't always get that at clubs, you can get lost at some of the bigger clubs.

"But he has got pole position here and he is enjoying it. He has really got his feathers up at the minute and he can produce any magic he wants for us because he is in that sort of mood."

Cabaye's central midfield sidekick Cheick Tiote will be missing on Thursday after picking up a fifth booking of the season in the 3-0 victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday, and Pardew will have to find a replacement for the in-form Ivory Coast international.

Tiote will return for the weekend clash with Arsenal, by which point Pardew will hope he is still in the unaccustomed position of managing a team sitting above Manchester United.

Pardew said: "It's quite strange, but I certainly think we are worthy of that, and now we need to try to do it in the second part of the season."

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